Need for mental health services in Collier County schools rises during pandemic

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

While vaccines are offering hope to many people, the pandemic continues. Our lives were changed forever one year ago, and experts tell us this pandemic has an everlasting impact on the mental health of our children.

We learned Wednesday the need for mental health services for students in Collier County has skyrocketed.

Especially at elementary schools in Collier County, mental health service providers are seeing an overwhelming number of children dealing with disorders such as anxiety and depression, and they say the pandemic is to blame.

“Children were used to having a structure … doing activities,” said Gayla Bowden with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

In classrooms, desks are spaced safely apart, and virtual learning has become the new normal. Parents such as Dave Dubois are concerned for children.

“If they’re not with other kids interacting, they’re going to lose out on that social development,” Dubois said.

More and more kids at Collier County schools are needing mental health services from providers such as David Lawrence Center in Collier County.

“An increase of 50 percent of children placed under the Baker Act,” Bowden said. “The direct referrals from the school system has been primarily elementary school children who are acting out, anxiety and depression. The school is doing a really good identifying those children and linking them with us; however, the problem is the lack of providers in the community.”

Students are having to wait to get help. Before the pandemic, a child would typically wait two weeks to see a therapist. The wait can sometimes take months with the increased demand.

“The danger could be the risk of suicide,” Bowden explained.

With these concerns in mind, the pandemic is not taking a toll on the mental health of all students.

“My son loves being home, and he would prefer to be home,” parent Julie Bean said.

David Lawrence Center is expanding to help more children in Collier County with mental health. The impacts on those students who miss out on traditional, in-person school are real.

“I’m at home, so I haven’t really had a social life,” student Edward Vonkrumreig said. “Focusing, trying to get through the day.”

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